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Climate revisionism

I am a subscriber to the Economist; not because I like it – though the writing is excellent – but because its free-market ideology is a constant reminder of the challenge the ideology presents for those looking to foster progressive change. So, when I opened this week’s copy, I was hoping to see one dominant factor, climate change. Note it was hope, not expectation.

The Economist is struggling with climate change. The writers/editors know that it is a challenge to business-as-usual. The IPCC report published earlier this week (9 August 2021), has given the the magazine’s editors a way out: sulphates. Every cloud has a silver lining, and sulphates – or more generically, aerosols – are showing themselves to be a way to justify not changing the system that delivers ever-greater climate change.

The IPCC report shows that in burning fossil fuels, sulphates are released into the atmosphere – the lower atmosphere to be precise. These particles actually reflect heat away from the planet and have contributed something in the order of 0.4 degrees Celsius of cooling. Actually scrubbing fossil fuels when they are burned, takes out the sulphates and, hence, makes warming worse (though the benefits to air quality and hence mortality from air polution are significant but peripheral in the argument). Even more interesting is the discernible decrease in sulphates that occurred after 2015 and is detailed here by James Hansen – a colossus in climate science (left). In other words, without sulphates the planet would have already reached 1.5 degrees Celsius warming since pre-industrial times. Readers may well be able to see where this is going?

The sulphates “solution” is at the heart of solar geo-engineering thinking (see Elizabeth Kolbert’s account). If human beings scatter the upper-atmosphere with sulphate particles, the heat would be reflected and the planet cooled. It seems that geo-engineering is back on the agenda for free-market thinkers, even though it is unthinkable for many reasons: political, unintended consequences (some of which are known), etc. Solar geo-engineering is not a solution for the IPCC, however.

In addition, the Economist has gone for another easy option, methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas, something-like 10 times the potency of carbon dioxide. However, it stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time. The logic, then, is for methane to be targeted rather than carbon dioxide. Moreover, methane can be monetized (it has a market price), therefore it is easier to attract private investment than simple carbon capture. Here is a question, methane can be captured from human industrial processes, but one of the growing sources of methane is that released from melting ice and permafrost. How is that captured? I think the answer is not to release it in the first place. Zero carbon has to be the target. End.

Pic: By NASA – nasa.gov, (archived), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71506555

The LGB Alliance Are A Hate Group — Ruth On The Line

The LGB Alliance exists solely to attack transgender people’s well established place within the wider LGBT community, for no other reason than the personal bias against transgender people of the LGB Alliance’s founders. If WordPress doesn’t force me to take this down, I’ll turn this post into a list of bulletpoints explaining why they are […]

The LGB Alliance Are A Hate Group — Ruth On The Line

The UK models itself on Hungary?

The populist conservative government in the UK has shown itself to hold democracy and the UK parliament in contempt. The PM prorogued the parliament – that is, suspended it – in order to thwart attempts to avoid a no-deal Brexit in the summer of 2019. The Brexit Bill bringing into law the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement) between the UK and the EU was pushed through in less-than a week to avoid the scrutiny of the committee system, itself designed to ensure law is robust and able to stand up to interrogation. The shortcomings of that law are on display daily at ports, shops and exporting firms across the country.

The next illiberal bill being pushed speedily through the parliament is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. I got wind of its illiberal content and aims from Ian Dunt. Consequently, I have written to my Conservative member of parliament, Sally-Ann Hart, to register my concern (reproduced below).

Viktor Orbán, PM, Hungary

As for heading towards being Hungary; the current PM’s predecessor fuelled the belief that the British courts were the enemies of the people when they were used to force the Government to follow the law. There is more of that to come, I’m sure. The UK will soon have its own version of Fox News – opinion rather than news. The existing regulator enforces partiality, but it is difficult to see how the two newly licensed channels are going to achieve that. Any doubters out there should also note that the new boss of the BBC has just cancelled – yes, cancelled – the satirical TV show, The Mash Report. Officially because it is not funny. Unofficially because it is.

11 March 2021

Dear Ms Hart,

Re: Free Speech

I work in a university with an honourable tradition of free speech. Your colleague, The Secretary of State for Education, believes that free speech is so important that it needs a champion to ensure that it is respected in our universities.

Meanwhile another of your colleagues, the Home Secretary, has published a bill designed to shut down free speech. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill has a number of provisions that are deeply anti-democratic. First, and for example, there is a potential for a noise restriction to be imposed on a demonstration if the police believe that it will cause a nuisance to anyone. I’ve been on many demonstrations exercising my democratic right to free speech. They are, by definition, noisy. That is the point, is it not?

Second, should a restriction be placed on the demonstration and a demonstrator violate it and arguing in court that they did not know about it, previously that was admissible. Under this law, it will not. A person on a demonstration will need to know all of the restrictions imposed on the demonstration or face prosecution.

Thirdly, a demonstration by a lone individual would have the same status.

Finally, the Home Secretary will be given powers to change a definition of “serious disruption” under a statutory instrument. This is a wholly inappropriate use of such a mechanism.

Why is there such a difference between the Home Office and the Department for Education on the question of free speech?

I trust that you will resist the attempt in the bill to curtail and criminalise free speech in our country.

Kind regards,

Andrew Grantham

Pic: European Peoples’ Party

Book review: Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency by Andreas Malm

Gripping title, even more gripping content. It is made up of four elements: this is the climate emergency, this is Corona, this is how they are related to one another (be rest assured, they are) and this is what we do about it. The latter section is effectively a call to resistance. The word “sabotage” is used, and there are plenty of references to Marx, Soviets and Rosa Luxemberg.

Book cover

Let me take one step back. Malm is, in my opinion, one of the 21st Century’s great thinkers in the fields of climate, capitalism and now pandemics. Let me just qualify that – one of with the caveat that he is white, male and prosperous. If any readers can direct me to thinkers in his area that do not have this profile, please let me know. I genuinely want to understand these dynamics better. However, Malm’s earlier book, Fossil Capital, is transformative as a text on capitalist ideology – in the league of EP Thompson’s, Making of the English Working Class and, more esoterically, Nick von Tunzelman’s Technology and Industrial Progress: The Foundations of Economic Growth (both texts widely discussed by Malm). Where Fossil Capital was uncompromising in its extended narrative and detail, Corona is short, 175 pages (though with extensive end notes), and with pace that is difficult to keep up with. But we must, such is the real emergency here.

Readers of this blog are well aware of the arguments surrounding climate change, these are rehearsed in the early part of the text. Malm refers extensively – and rightly – to his earlier work. Humanity’s – by which he means capital’s – pursuit of growth enabled by the extraordinary store of energy captured in fossil fuels, is at the root of the current emergency. Growth has led to wealth, both absolute and relative, even in the poorest and most unequal societies and countries where capitalism is practised. Capitalism is inherently extractive and that means destruction of habitats. Now we can look at habitats – forests, for example – as exploitable resources, or we can look at them as places where there is essential biodiversity – counterintuitively, higher biodiversity correlates with lower transmission of pathogens (p41) – and the place where animals carrying pathogens live out of harms way . It is in this destruction and the stress it imposes on other creatures, according to Malm, that the pathogen makes the leap – zoonotic spillover – from animal to human.

We know that Covid-19 – or Sars-CoV-2 as it is now known – was likely to have been transmitted from bats (though probably through an intermediary animal). Prior to reading Malm, I did not really know anything about bats other than the fact they are flying mammals and they use some form of echo system to navigate at night. I certainly did not know that they very peculiar physiology – they being the only flying mammals – makes them supremely good hosts of viruses. In fact, Malm paints the picture of them as flying virus hotels (my image, not his). The bats have a unique immunity to the viruses and so close contact between humans and bats in, say, for example, a wild animal market in a densely-populated city, can have devastating consequences.

Malm reserves a special place for aviation in linking climate change and the pandemic. We should already be familiar with the arguments about aviation’s contribution to global emissions – not the highest but a significant contributor. The warming leads animals and birds to migrate further north, taking their pathogens with them. Fauna not used to mixing, goes Malm’s argument, do so and the pathogens take the opportunity to jump – so-called zoonotic spillover. Furthermore “[M]ost of the tens of thousands of novel pathogen exchanges anticipated along these routes will take place between one species of wild animal and another, but it will be a moving laboratory of genetic recombination, in which parasites may learn to make longer jumps: And their hosts will bump into, or skirt past humans. Viral sharing events are likely to be most common in places with fairly dense human populations, such as the Ethiopian highlands , Indonesia and – crossroads again – eastern China.” (p87)

The extent to which this is fact or hypothesis, I’m not sure. Malm’s extensive endnotes are detailed and derived from valid academic and informed sources. The causality of zoonotic transmission from animals to humans is not yet clear. Writing in the Conversation and reproduced in the Guardian, Dominic Dwyer who was on the recent World Health Organisation mission/investigation to Wuhan can only confirm that the likelihood of the virus being manufactured in a lab is very small indeed. The probability that the source is bats is very high, but the transmission route remains unclear. The Wuhan “wet market” is a viable option, but there remains no evidence that the transmission to took place there, despite the presence of bats, civits, pangolins, bamboo rats and ferret badgers, all viable carriers of corona viruses.

Whatever the particular circumstances surrounding the particular case of Covid-19, Malm’s argument is a wider one, the more humans encroach on territories of wild animals, destroy their habit and force migrations north and into the human world, the greater is the likelihood of zoonotic transmission. Deadly though Covid-19 is, the next one could be a lot worse, and it will come sooner rather than later.

Back to aviation. Aviation is a contributor to a warming planet – becoming like Venus, as he puts it. It was also a transmission bridge or mechanism for spreading the human Covid-19 around the world in a remarkably short space of time. This book is full of linkages of this kind, one almost makes a list as he reveals like participating in a treasure hunt.

What is to be done?

I remember as a student this translation of Lenin’s question relating to the October Revolution. Malm draws on Lenin, Trotsky, Marx, Rosa Luxemberg; though interestingly, not Gramsci. He does this because he believes that “the time for gradualism is over” (p121). It is time for the state to reassert itself (he having flirted with anarchism as a younger man). But more than that, for us to take control of the state. That by my reading is revolution, not a reassertion, at least in the first instance.

Drawing on Lenin again, Malm reminds us of Lenin’s other major text from 1917, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It. The catastrophe was different, but of the same magnitude for the people of Russia. The people were engaged in combatting the catastrophe and the state took control of the means of production, food supplies and land, essentially declaring war on need. By contrast, of course, humanity (capitalists, more precisely) has declared war on the planet. Those of us who want either to survive, or pass something liveable on to those who come after us, need to declare war on capital.

Capitalism has to go because it cannot be a solution to the warming planet. First he suggests that if we leave it to capitalists to solve, carbon capture will have to be marketised – turned into a product that has commercial value. This is not possible because of the scale of carbon capture needed and the price that can be levied on, and for, carbon. The state has to have carbon capture as a function, not as a market opportunity. Indeed, as Jason Hickel reminds us, carbon capture is factored into the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. Carbon neutrality is contingent on carbon capture! Second, left to the capitalists, geoengineering will be imposed upon us. This means sulphate aerosol injection – what he calls a pseudo-solution – that will pay handsomely for suppliers, but have unanticipated – and predictably negative – consequences for the planet’s inhabitants. It is a shield from the heat needing regular topping up, as it were.

A state following a doctrine of Economic Leninism then, is one that [takes] “control of trade flows, chased down wildlife traffickers, nationalised fossil fuel companies, organised direct air capture, planned the economy to cut nearly 10 per cent of emissions per year and did all other necessary things…” (p166).

And so back to the link between Covid-19 and climate change. The link is real, even if direct causality is difficult to establish. Plundering of the earth in pursuit of growth and human gratification must end. States have reasserted themselves in tackling Covid-19, albeit imperfectly. To do it “perfectly”, the state needs to be much more robust and undertake a paradigm shift either leading its people or, even better, the people leading it. Finally, “[m]ore precisely, zoonotic spillover of this earth-shattering magnitude should make it clear that defending wild nature against parasitic capital is now human self-defence. But the conscious organisation of such defence is solely up to humans” (p173).

I have nothing more to add.

Bill Gates and climate change

Bill GatesAs if he was not rich enough already (the richest man in the world until Jeff Bezos supplanted him in 2018), he wants me to buy his book as well. So this is based on what I have read about the book in interviews and bits published in newspapers. I think he owes us a free copy, especially if what he says is important for life on the planet.

There are so many contradictions in the man and what he says. Notwithstanding the fact that he became super-rich (not just rich, a concept that I can cope with) off the backs of others and not paying tax, he admits to flying private jets – and indeed has investments in a private jet company – and eating beef burgers. Lots of them. Seemingly the farting and burping of bovines amounts to 4% greenhouse gas emissions – so stopping eating them is not going to make much difference. He offsets his conscience by investing in Beyond Meat, a plant-based tech company that makes burgers that taste and act like meat. But tell me, Mr Gates, what about the contribution of beef to deforestation? Those trees as so important for carbon capture, but the more meat you eat, the more forest is destroyed to graze cattle and grow soya for them to eat. So it is not just about emissions, it is about the loss of natural carbon capture and, by consequence, biodiversity. Not to mention, human health. But maybe that is somewhere in the book that I have not read?

Being rich, his offsetting – a dodgy concept at the best of times – is in paying an Icelandic technology carbon capture firm to neutralise his emissions. That is beyond most of us. Moreover, he is also investing in nuclear fusion, the holy grail of energy generation. Good for him.

Of course, like most of these rich people who have become converts to addressing climate change, they are trying to do so as believers in capitalist management. The problem, arguably, has its roots in capitalist management. The solution is in a different paradigm. That does not suit super-richness.

He’s not a fan of Extinction Rebellion, which is fair enough. But his reason is quite bizarre. When Extinction Rebellion is blocking  roads in pursuit of its agenda, there are people in the traffic jam who are innovators (like himself). They are having innovation time stolen from them by ER people, making climate change worse. Yeah, right.

He does not think kindly also about Greta Thunberg. In his interview in the Guardian newspaper he said “you can’t have a movement without high-visibility figures. I hope she’s not messing up her education. She seems very clever.” It was pointed out that he himself dropped out of Harvard to set up Microsoft – so messing up an education is okay for some. It is the point of many politicians criticising young people who support Fridays for Future. They are messing up their education. When the young people are actually saying, “you are denying me a future”. And yes, she’s clever. Despite her sojourn to the USA last year, she still managed to win a school prize for performance.

By contrast, he is an admirer of the father of one of the most destructive corporations on the planet, Charles Koch. Moreover, not only are Koch Industries companies huge greenhouse gas emitters (big on fossil fuels), the Koch brothers have donated possibly billions of dollars in climate denial propaganda in the US and also in the UK. The contrarians in the UK are supported by Koch money.

So, an 18-year old fighting for her/a future with no corporate money behind her is misguided; but a rich owner of a planet damaging corporation is a friend.

What is worth considering in what he is saying? Here is a short list:

  • visiting manufacturing factories, sewage works and farms is a good thing (he took his son to various plants to show him how things are done)
  • cement is a problem
  • steel manufacture is a problem
  • electric cars are not a solution – hydrogen is the fuel of the future for mobility
  • it’s not the temperature that is the problem, rather the rate of change (outstripping evolutionary adaptation)
  • education is important
  • Gates is not conspiring to insert microchips into us all through Covid vaccines. Vaccines are and have been, transformative in human civilisation, saved many lives and much suffering. On that we can agree.

Picture: United States Department of Health and Human Services – https://www.flickr.com/photos/hhsgov/39912162735/

Free Ports

Today (5 February 2021) is the date for submissions for applications for Free Ports are customs-free areas where “value” is added to products before being re-exported without ever actually entering the country. So, all of that paperwork that is currently crippling domestic business due to Brexit will not be due by the businesses operating inside free port areas. The fear is that it is not just paperwork that will be excluded – workers rights and environmental protections may also be excluded.

On the former, the RMT Union General Secretary, Mick Cash, has said that “Without strong employment rights, automatic trade union recognition and tax laws that make sure international owners of UK ports contribute, free ports are doomed to fail the communities they are designed to help.”

Another big player will be DP World. This company is owned by the State of Dubai and chaired by Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem (bottom right). The free port there operates a tax-free operation area – indeed, firms can be incorporated there to operate untaxed.

Sultan_Ahmed_bin_Sulayem_at_Retail_City_2007

On environmental issues, the case case of Bristol is of concern. The port company is owned by Terence Mordaunt and David Ord. Notwithstanding their affiliation to the Conservative Party, they are supporters of the climate-change-denying lobby Group, Global Warming Policy Forum. The science of climate change is now fact. Free ports should not be a vehicle for undermining the decarbonisation of the economy.

Picture: Imre Solt, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

55 – the magic death number

Cigarette advertising is back in Germany. Two campaigns – Winston and now Camel – have something in common, the number 55. It is the number of death sticks that can be squeezed into a packet that is just short of the size of a brick. The two brands also have their brand management by Japan Tobacco in common. Let’s see if 55 catches on.

They’ll do anything for a deal with the USA

Today I wrote to my new MP, Sally-Ann Hart, for the first time. The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2019 election stated:

“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”

And yet, the Government is pushing a new agriculture bill through the parliament that offers no such commitment. In order to rectify that, one of her Conservative Party colleagues, Neil Parish, proposed an amendment to the bill that would honour that manifesto commitment. The amendment tabled on 13 May 2020 was defeated (22 Conservatives did vote for it, but Sally-Ann Hart was not one of them).

The reason is clear. There is no hope of a trade deal with the USA if existing standards are maintained. So, Conservative MPs are prepared to sacrifice the livelihoods of farmers (who will not be able to compete against US farmers, especially those on marginal land), environmental targets, including greenhouse gas emissions and the health of their constituents who will finally be able to enjoy chlorinated chicken, hormone-fed beef and pork, and eggs produced in battery cages.

Full story here and farmers’ reaction here including a list of the 22 Conservatives who voted for the amendment.

Built-in obsolescence

Here’s my Russel Hobbs iron (left). The cable is wearing and exposing the live wires within. The fix should be to rewire it. But it is well-and-truly sealed. No way in. I know they would say it is a safety feature, but I cannot even take it to an electrician to fix it. It is, essentially, waste.

 

Lucky Strike stories in six words…everywhere

There are more of these on the streets of Germany than I could be bothered to get off my bicycle and photograph. Shocking blitzing of city streets with advertising for deadly products.

The first one(left) is something to do with travel: “Spinning world. Finger out. Case pack”.

The second (right) – forgive me here  for the bad picture, but it has been sunny in Germany- the nuance here  is a bit too much for me  – “Ask. After the bill. And number”.Hmmm!

Third (left) “Chance opportunity. And grab. No regrets”. Death.